June 01, 2007

I am jealous

Writing about web page http://whitfriday.brassbands.saddleworth.org/intro.html

It’s Whit Friday, and therefore I should be having a cracking day out (traditionally one of the best of the entire year) with the band, marching and playing round the villages of Saddleworth having cracked open the first beers before midday. Most of my good friends at university are doing this right now; unfortunately I’m on the other side of the world in NZ.

Roll on next year!

May 25, 2007

Moving forward

I’m now just over half-way through the VFR stages of the multi-engine stage of the course, which basically involves learning how to fly the aircraft in readiness for moving on to the IFR flying. Happily, it’s all going really well so far. I think by the end of the single-engine phases, you’re ready for something a bit different and I know I certainly was.

I don’t think I could ever say I got bored of it – that would be the wrong word because I never get bored of flying (well, apart from as a passenger on 14 hour sectors from Manchester to Singapore, for example) but there’s only so many VFR navigation and CPL profile flights you can do before it starts to get repetitive. Towards the end, when you’re supposed to be feeling at your peak and ready to show an examiner what you can do, it’s probably not a good thing that you feel like you’re going through the motions but it does feel like that sometimes, particularly when you turn up and the Hamilton Airport fog magnet has been left switched on again. There’s only so many times you can fill in yet ANOTHER weight and balance sheet that was practically identical to your last one and go through the same drill on every flight before you want to move on. Don’t get me wrong, there are things I already miss about those flights – I don’t have any more solos in New Zealand, for example, which means I won’t get the chance to plan routes where I can get in a bit of sightseeing (I never did make it round Auckland city, though!) The next time I’ll be pilot-in-command will be ages away when I’m back in Bournemouth. But generally, I found my motivation starting to slip away slightly towards the end of the single-engine flying because it was so repetitive and silly mistakes started to creep in towards the end. When I passed the test it felt like a massive hurdle had been finally crossed and, now I’m on the Twin Star, the motivation and desire has jumped right back up again. When I come back from a flight in it, I just want to go straight back out on the next one, which is exactly how it should be.

So, the flights so far… well, I’ve done three flights and three simulator flights, plus one introductory session on the Part Task Trainer (PTT) which is basically a replica instrument panel without any external visual references like in a “real” sim. I’ve covered most normal and abnormal operating procedures in the simulator and then practised them for real on the first two flights, and today I had a flight doing circuits at Hamilton, where I learned to land it properly. A lot of it so far is just, as I mentioned, learning how to fly the aircraft in readiness for the IFR stuff and a lot of it is just old techniques being revisted and adapted to flying them in a bigger, heavier aircraft with more engines. There are three things here which are worth a mention here.

First – only a small one really, but we’re now officially allowed to use the autopilot. I tried it at the end of my second flight and it’s really useful, it helps you manage the workload a lot better, particularly when returning to the airport and you’ve got other things to do besides fly the aircraft such as getting weather information, talking to the tower and looking out for other traffic. The auto-pilot in the DA-42 isn’t an all-singing, all-dancing job like in an Airbus – it’ll do the basic stuff but we still have to operate the rudder, power levers (not throttles any more – always power levers!) and of course keep a good lookout. Some of the Cessnas we had on lease had autopilot fitted but I was never tempted to try it! So this was my first experience of it and I think I’ll be using it a fair bit more!

Second – the simulator. It’s a pretty awesome training tool, and it’s something that’s quite new to me. The cockpit is an exact replica of the real DA-42 (complete with raising and lowering canopy) without the anti-ice controls or seat belts, and it also has a “pause” button, which is very helpful for in-flight discussions about stuff with your instructor. The handling doesn’t feel too far away from the real thing – there are some differences, particularly noticeable when practising stalling and also the way it handles on the ground but, as far as I can see so far, it really prepares you well for getting in the aircraft and doing it for real. For anybody reading this and thinking the external views we see are photo-realistic replicating the outside world, forget it! Think back to something like Flight Sim 4 (before the Windows 95 version with the 737 came out) and you’ve pretty much got it. The “big” features of the landscape are all there – rivers, prominent mountains, etc, so you know you’re flying around the Hamilton area – but for those people who are expecting it to be a working version of Flight Simulator X but with a full cockpit and panoramic screen, forget it! (Although it does have a 180 degree panoramic screen which is great.)

Thirdly – landing. This is probably the part of flying the DA-42 that feels so much different than the Cessna. Obviously, it’s a bigger and heavier aircraft and the approach speeds are higher so everything feels like it’s happening that much faster, particularly on short finals and crossing the threshold of the runway. The actual technique for touching down is what feels most different though. In the Cessna, you’d have to pull the power to idle about 50ft above the threshold and hold the nose attitude until starting the flare to get the airspeed down and stop you floating along the runway for miles. In the DA-42, with landing gear down and full flap the amount of drag is much larger and the nose attitude on short finals is MUCH lower than in the Cessna. It took some getting used to because it felt like we were diving at the runway but after a few attempts you realise that actually, you’re not really descending any faster. You just have to keep flying it down to keep the airspeed up and flare slightly later than in the Cessna. You also don’t bring the power levers back until you’ve gone over the threshold and you’re about to touch down – again, do it where you would have done in the Cessna and you’ll probably smack it down pretty hard and have some explaining to do to the maintenance guys afterwards!

This evening I had my first lesson on asymmetric flight in the simulator (i.e. learning how to deal with one of the two engines failing.) It’s a very, very important part of learning to fly a multi-engine aircraft. If you have an engine failure on a single-engine aircraft, you’re going to have to stick it down in a field but at least you know it’s going to glide in a straight line without too much effort. On a multi, it’s very different – if an engine fails, you’ve still got the other one so you’ll still have some degree of performance and (barring a disaster) you’ll be able to make it to an airfield and land safely but if you don’t know how to control it, you’re stuffed. Because of the asymmetric lift, drag and thrust created by one engine being dead, if you sit and do nothing about it you’ll end up in a spiral dive (as I was shown in the sim.) Learning how to control it, therefore, and all the procedures associated with continuing to fly safely is absolutely vital, and this is what I’ll be doing over the next few flights. Overall, tonight’s sim was pretty good; a lot of it was just getting used to the asymmetric handling and getting to grips with all the checks, but I’ve been reliably informed that the next one is going to be pretty hard work.

To finish with, here’s a picture courtesy of Shaun – it’s me taxiing out off the apron for my circuits lesson today, in ZK-CTN. (This one, despite being such a new aircraft, has a very annoying habit of pulling to the left during taxiing and left me with a pretty sore right leg by the time I got to the run up bay from trying to keep it straight. If Shaun had taken this picture about 3 seconds earlier, he’d have caught me embarrassingly off the yellow line on the taxiway!)
This won’t be viewable if you’re reading this in Facebook

Me in DA-42

May 18, 2007

Goodbye, single–engine flying – onwards and upwards

I’m writing this on a Friday afternoon of relaxation and generally doing not very much at all; the last week or so has, for some reason, felt like one of the most stressful weeks I can remember for a long time. I don’t know anyone who enjoys flight tests and I certainly don’t, but after 32 flights of building up my hours, practising various navigation techniques and becoming more confident in my handling of the aircraft, I finally reached the end of the single-engine phase of the course. I hadn’t felt too worried about it up until about the night before, and then when the schedule appeared and I had my slot down for the next day (this was last Friday) the nerves suddenly started to flare up big style.

Why, I don’t really know – this particular test wasn’t for an official rating or licence issue, it’s an internal company assessment and therefore although it’s a test, it’s not a full-blown “exam” as such. It didn’t get off to a great start last Friday when we went. The weather closed in pretty quickly and we were only airborne about half an hour before we had to come back. That was not good, considering that I’d spent ages psyching myself up and trying to prepare well for it. So I spent the afternoon being annoyed by the crap weather then had another go at it the next day when it was slightly better. To cut a long and boring story short, I failed. A lot of the flight was OK, but there were certain bits that weren’t and they were apparently pretty crucial – handling of the controls not smooth enough, not enough use of rudder during stall recovery, forgetting to look out before going into a glide – things like that. I confess to feeling a little hard done by, but then who am I to talk? I’m not an instructor with hundreds of hours of experience, so it was probably perfectly justified. I also don’t deny being bitterly disappointed, being the first person to fail that particular test for months. But, as people kept saying to me, what’s important is how you take the feedback on board and improve on it and come back better next time.

I then had a bit of an enforced break from that for the rest of the week to sweat over the next attempt; I had to wait a couple of days for the meeting you have when you balls up a flight, then I had two days of ground school for flying the multi-engine aircraft. (Being only one flight away, it made sense to go to it than wait until finishing and then waiting another 2 weeks doing nothing before the next lot were ready for the ground course.) It was great because it really felt like we were getting somewhere – multis after months and months of flying the singles! I’ve been so anxious to get on to this part of the course because I’m roughly 5 weeks behind at the moment and this part of the course is quite time critical, we have to finish before returning to the UK for Bristol part 2 because we don’t come back here again after that. So on that basis, it was great to be in the classroom and feel like I was making progress towards that. Having said that, knowing that unlike some of my classmates I had another test still to come on the C172, I couldn’t relax and enjoy it 100%; it was rather like the proverbial dangling of the carrot.

Thursday then came and I was scheduled for my re-test. It was meant to be at 10am but the weather was again pretty bad, with a cold front passing through the area so we managed to re-schedule for 1pm when hopefully it would be a bit clearer. It was, but there was still turbulence forecast right along the route I’d been given. We still went and I somehow passed but I’m still struggling to believe it. In my opinion, the flight was far worse than the first one. Towards the end of the first navigation leg my composure deserted me completely and I missed seeing the turning point (despite finding out later on that I’d been pretty much directly overhead it) and, despite trying to apply the correct techniques I’d been taught, had no idea where I was at one point. I did manage to find myself again and was given a diversion, which then proceeded to be the most messy diversion I’ve ever done. Despite me getting flustered and feeling overloaded when I shouldn’t really have been, I still managed to fly reasonably on track, my techniques more or less worked and I arrived at Matamata airfield exactly when I said I was going to. Although it had worked, I was just so annoyed that it was nowhere near as good as it could have been. The rest of it wasn’t too bad, but there was a bit near the end where I was meant to intercept and track a VOR radial and it took ages to intercept because the compass and DI weren’t aligned and because I was feeling knackered I didn’t pick it up. There was just time for a bit of final embarrassment entering the Hamilton circuit; I thought I’d heard the ATIS saying the crosswind on runway 18 was gusting to 20 knots, which is outside the Cessna’s max demonstrated crosswind limit so I requested runway 25 instead. It turned out it wasn’t because loads of people were using 18 at the time and my instructor immediately jumped in and told the tower to disregard my call and 18 would be fine. Felt like a bit of an idiot at that point.

After another slightly iffy crosswind landing and shutting down at the fuel pumps, I didn’t move for a minute or so, I just stared out of the window unable to believe that I’d gone and failed it again; after how erratic I thought my navigation had been, there was no way I was going to pass. I sent a few depressed texts to Naomi, feeling any remaining confidence in my flying draining away. I’d already felt short of confidence before this one because the more I thought about the previous one, the more I thought it hadn’t really gone that badly and after 5 days of not flying and also not sleeping too well the night before I was sure I wasn’t going to improve on my previous performance. I was probably stressing about it way too much considering a bit of extra remedial training would have been the absolute worst outcome, but honestly I don’t think I’ve felt that nervous since just before my Phase 4 before I was accepted on to the course. So when I was told that I was being allowed to proceed on to the multis but there was a lot of hard work ahead, I was just more relieved and grateful than anything else. I should have felt happy, but I didn’t really. Just relieved. I wasn’t happy with how I’d flown and I wasn’t happy that I’d just about passed. This was the end of the phase, and I wanted to pass well, to show what I could do.

Still, as I said, that’s it for the Cessna. It’s goodbye to the 172, which overall has been great to fly and a trusty workhorse. It has its detractors and I admit the Robin is pretty nice and handles like a dream, but for cross-country navigation and general comfort I know which one I’d rather take. And it’s hello to this:
(If you’re reading this note as imported into Facebook, you won’t be able to see the picture; click on the link at the top to see the original version in Warwick Blogs.)

DA-42 2

For those of you reading who aren’t cadets and/or haven’t come across this aircraft before, this is the Diamond DA-42 “Twin Star”, which we do all our twin-engine training on between now and finishing the CPL and IR. The one shown here is ZK-CTO, one of eight we have here in Hamilton, and this one was delivered to our training centre new only last month and is the one I have my first flight in tomorrow! It’s diesel-powered (runs on Jet-A1 but has two 1.7 litre turbo-diesel engines) which means it’s very efficient and, although not about to win any beauty awards (particularly with those ridiculous winglets) it has plenty of electronic gadgetry to help us out; for example, where as in a conventional twin piston you’d have separate levers for the throttles and propellers, the Twin Star has one single power lever for each engine and the propeller pitch is controlled automatically. The best bit, however, is the instrument panel which is dominated by the fantastic Garmin 1000 “glass cockpit”.

(Photo linked from the Diamond Aircraft website, I’ll replace it with my own when I’ve taken one inside the aircraft.)

I had a lesson on how to use it today, and suffice to say I can’t wait to get my hands on it tomorrow! It’s a brilliant piece of kit, it does absolutely everything. I’ve got a simulator flight first thing in the morning, then the real thing later on so I’m really hoping the weather’s good. At this stage, while we’re learning how to fly the aircraft, the flying is still VFR; 5 or 6 flights’ time (plus a few more sims) the weather ceases to be as much of an issue because we’ll be flying IFR. I can’t wait to get on to that. Still, got to learn to fly the thing first and on that note, I’d better get on with revising the ground school notes!

May 07, 2007

May update

This is the start of the fourth week back in New Zealand and I was hoping to report that I’d finished flying the Cessna by now and was starting the DA-42 ground course today. Not so, unfortunately. With three full weeks gone, I still have three flights to go – pre-test TPIC, one solo and then the actual test. (This assumes I don’t fail any of them – obviously if I do, there’ll be more.) While the flying that I have done has been quite fun, it’s utterly frustrating that even if I finish by the end of this week and start on the Twin Star stuff next week, I’ll be four weeks behind schedule. While this doesn’t sound like a massive problem (given that I got my PPL about 9 weeks late) it still only leaves 8 weeks before we’re due to go home and 10 weeks before the last date we can actually go home to make it back in time for Bristol part 2. I’m pretty desperate to make it home for Naomi’s 21st which is on July 23rd but for this to happen we’re going to have to accelerate pretty quickly through the multi-engine phases.

The biggest problem by far has been fog. Hamilton, lying in a big flat basin, is apparently well known for it. Too many days I’ve woken up at 6am for an early flight, looked out of the window and not even been able to see the car park about 30 feet away. Often, the airport has been even worse. Depending on how thick the layer of fog is, it sometimes doesn’t burn off until midday, which means pretty much half a day’s worth of flying is lost. It’s utterly frustrating and really quite demoralising. Although I’m now only three flights away from saying goodbye to the Cessna, the Twin Star doesn’t feel like it’s getting any closer and it’s very difficult to remain motivated or happy. A few days of not flying due to weather (and once, last week, on a beautiful day but with the aircraft refusing to start) leads to slipping into a “ground-happy” mindset where planning and doing a flight feels like a chore, going through the motions, rather than being something that gives you a buzz. Added to that is the fact that while we’re still labouring towards the end of single engine, we’re seeing CP39 galloping jubilantly to their going-home date in the middle of June with most of them expected to finish on time and in a way that makes it a bit harder for us. Not that we begrudge them of that, obviously!

And just to top off the misery, I abandoned a good (and sober) night out in Hamilton the other night in favour of driving up to Clearways to watch the City vs United game. I’d said beforehand that given the form of the two teams I’d have been happy with a defeat in single figures and my only wish was that it wasn’t going to be a cricket score in favour of the Salford Yankees, but I’d forgotten just how angry it makes me losing a derby game. Particularly when it’s from a penalty, and even more particularly when it’s Ronaldo who’s won and scored it. And us missing one – and therefore virtually handing them the title, at the same time as us gaining the record for the least home goals scored in a top-flight season EVER – was just the icing on the cake. I was half up for going back into town at 2am but thought better of it, mainly because I was too annoyed and wouldn’t have enjoyed it but also because it turned out most people had packed up about half past 1 and gone home. Still, it probably helped the wallet a bit, especially having played pub golf the weekend before. And speaking of that, HSBC very kindly refunded me nearly 200 quids’ worth of penalty charges this week which certainly eased a few financial worries.

I’ve been saying this all along but I just want to get finished now. I’m getting more nervous about my test the longer I wait for it and it’s driving me mad. I suppose once I eventually do start flying the twins then the light at the end of the tunnel that is boarding the flight back to Manchester in July might just start becoming visible but at the moment it feels a long, long way off.

April 17, 2007

Welcome to Knox Street

So I’ve been back in New Zealand for about 5 days now, and the most significant news is that CP40 aren’t back in Clearways. Unfortunately, for some reason, the number of cadets here exceeds the number of rooms available and as things stand “there’s no room at the inn”, as it were. Not only that, but our backup accommodation Peachgrove is full as well, apparently of CP48 newbies (are we up to CP48 already?! Bloody hell) so CP40 are now residing in Knox Street in the centre of Hamilton – apparently a former army barracks used to be here but now it’s all relatively nice studio accommodation. It has its pros and cons when compared to Clearways but generally it’s pretty nice and we’re happy with it.

The cons first. Obviously it’s not brand new like Clearways was when I moved into there the first time, we’ve only just got the internet sorted and the wireless signal is a bit weak for some of the guys, we’re quite far from the airport compared to Clearways, we don’t have much of a lounge and, worst of all, the room between Craig and me is occupied by a very strange Kiwi girl. When I say strange, I mean in a bad way – last night I was woken up at 3:30am by her having a row with someone on the phone. Like Clearways, the walls in this place appear to have been fabricated from a few sheets of paper stuck together, and the inordinate use of four letter-words beginning with F and C were clearly audible. Not only that, but she has a tendency to walk round the place with headphones on singing (badly) at the top of her voice, and quite often that happens at inappropriate times of the day as well. It’s pretty bad, and not what you want when you’ve got a flight the next day and you need a good night’s sleep. I think a set of ear-plugs may be required if it carries on, and we’ll certainly be visiting the accommodation office. I can handle living next door to someone who’s a sandwich short of a picnic / gherkin short of a Big Mac / etc – after all, I lived next door to Hegarty for 7 months in Clearways (only joking, Heg!) – but getting woken up in the middle of the night by a constant stream of effing and blinding isn’t on.

On the plus side, of course, the proximity to the centre of Hamilton is quite a novelty compared to the rather isolated Clearways. Knox Street is within 2 minutes staggering er, walking distance from The Bank, our ‘regular’ here. It’s nice to have a change of scenery; Clearways, although it’s nice and has good communal areas, sometimes feels like merely an extension of the training centre. Being in Knox Street at least lets you feel like you’ve gone home for the day once you’ve finished working. Being close to supermarkets and shops also means it’s not a half-hour round trip every time you fancy a pizza or need a bit of shopping, and I’m hoping it cuts down on fuel bills because, although we’re further away, there’s actually less running about between accommodation and training centre. When you consider that both our cars are Toyota Platzes – for which fuel consumption can be considered in gallons per mile rather than miles per gallon – this is a definitely a good thing. We have carpet here too, which is far nicer than the laminate flooring we had in Clearways. So all in all, it’s not bad; when you compare it to the dreaded Dey Street, where we lived for the first 3 weeks out here last August, it’s far better.

Flying-wise, all of our long-course chaps are back in the air again now; the short-course guys are just waiting for enough instructors to be available to get them going on the Twin Star, which shouldn’t be too long. I’d have been looking forward to coming back a lot more if I’d been starting on the Twin Star now and not still finishing on the Cessna, but it’s not too much bother as long as the weather stays reasonable and we can get finished quickly.

Quite looking forward to tomorrow; Shaun and I are off to Ardmore to pick up JSP which has been up there for maintenance. Hope the weather is good enough – the forecast is a bit crappy.

April 12, 2007

Suggestion for the airlines

I’m sitting in the free internet area of the excellent Singapore Changi airport waiting for my connecting flight to Auckland at the moment. The flight from Manchester wasn’t too bad – long, of course, but on time and fairly smooth and comfortable. Singapore Airlines were absolutely excellent once again.

When I say comfortable, I mean that for cattle class, the legroom isn’t bad, the seats aren’t too narrow and I didn’t get off in any kind of pain from having my knees wedged against the back of a seat that reclines ridiculously far. What WASN’T comfortable, however, was the noise level eminating from the seats behind me. And this is where my suggestion to the airlines comes in.

When you’re sat at the gate waiting to board, you quite often hear a call announcing “would all passengers with small children please come forward for boarding first.” This is just daft, particularly when you consider that the people who pile on with their brattish kids (and there were a few today – it wasn’t like the Saga Holiday OAP flight I came back on a few weeks ago) are dotted about all over the cabin so when the attendants then try to board everyone else by seat row number, those with kids are still fannying about blocking the aisles up. We all know how restless little kids get – so when boarding them for a 13 hour flight, why do them first? Surely making them sit in their seats first and then waiting for 250 other people to pile on is going to make them restless. It’d be far better to let them run off their excess energy in the terminal and make them get on last. It’d also make the boarding process more efficient because everyone else wouldn’t have to stand about waiting to get past in the aisles while mummy and daddy empty what looks like a Mary Poppins bag full of toys on to their kid’s seat.

Even more to the point, however – WHY are they dotted about all over the cabin? All that means is that the entire place has to suffer from whinging and crying and screaming kids all night, rather than just one unfortunate part of the plane. Surely it’d be much better if the check-in people allocated all groups travelling with kids under 5 years old seats together right at the back. Then they can board first (if the airline so insists) and not get in anyone’s way, and also those of us sat at the front of economy class don’t have blood-curdling shrieks rattling our eardrums just when we’re drifting off to sleep. Nor will they be kicking our chairs or jumping up and down or generally doing everything you don’t want little kids doing on a long-haul journey.

Of course, it’s not really the kids’ fault. I always blame the parents. I would never have been allowed to scream and wail and run up and down aircraft aisles and generally disturb other people when I was 4 or 5 years old because my mum and dad were sensible enough not to let me do it. I could throttle those parents who think it’s acceptable for their little darlings to treat the aisles like a creche.

It gets worse, however. The bundle of joy sitting in the row behind me today must have been no more than 2 years old. I could tell that by the fact that its vocabulary was limited to “Waaaaaaah”. So it as rather a surprise when we pushed back from the gate and taxied over to 24L that the dad gave a running commentary – to the baby – on what was going on outside the window. Now I know I’ve been a bit of an aircraft anorak since an early age, but at 2 years old if my dad had pointed across at a big plane and said “Look, that big plane that says PIA on it, that’s a Boeing 777-200 the same as we’re on, except for that one’s the ER model” it wouldn’t really have made a lot of sense. Judging by the kid’s response – “waaaaaah” – it didn’t make much sense to it either. (Sorry for the repeated use of “it”, I have no idea of its gender and don’t really care.) Fascinated by aircraft as I’m sure the little darling will be one day, surely learning to walk and talk is more of a priority than learning all the different intricate designations of various passenger airliners.

An hour or so to go, then it’s time to settle down for another 10 hours next to two strangers. If those strangers happen to be carrying a 2 year old kid who keeps me awake all the way to Auckland, I think I’ll probably cry. Make them all sit together and leave the rest of us in peace.

April 03, 2007

Time off, Bristol and exam week

So I’m now into my 5th week of 5 and a half back on English soil before making the delightful 27 hour trip back to New Zealand. I don’t know where the time has gone exactly, it’s flown by far too quickly. I had a lovely week at home doing not very much at all; in fact the only productive thing I managed to do all week was get my Class 1 medical renewed. Apart from that I used the time to fiddle round with my now-working-again desktop computer (yes, it was the motherboard at fault despite Aria insisting it wasn’t – not buying from there again), drinking proper ale (not that piss-poor bland excuse for lager they brew in NZ) and watching proper television. You don’t realise how much you miss Sky until you’ve had nearly 7 months of Kiwi television.

Week 2 involved a trip down to University to see Naomi and it was a cracking week. It was pure chance that the Regional Brass Band contest fell on one of the weekends I was home and not working, so there was no way I was missing it! It felt a bit weird being sat up in the audience instead of playing but it was great to listen to the performance from the audience’s perspective instead of being sat in the middle of the band. Very good it was too; I know Simon didn’t think it was great but from where I was sat the band played far better than the two before it and, in my opinion, should have come higher than Matlock who came 2nd overall. I thought we were a bit unlucky but still, 5th out of 16 isn’t bad at all. The evening that followed, of course, just turned into beery carnage. I also have a vague recollection of being sat on a park bench with Jim on the way to the curry having a deep and meaningful conversation but neither of us can remember what it was about. The other notable event from that week was Score on Wednesday; being the last Score of term, the Union had got a live act on stage and guess who they were… The Vengaboys! Ok, so they didn’t actually do anything other than dance to their usual tracks and talk to the audience a bit, they didn’t even sing! But the audience loved it. Early in the week I also discovered that you can pick up a wireless signal in the Grad, which meant pretty much all of my exam revision took place in there. I should point out that there were some non-beer-related events over the course of the week; notably Naomi and I going to Leamington Bar & Grill for a very nice meal and going for some lovely walks round parts of campus we never knew were there! Walking round Lakeside, I discovered there’s something very amusing about watching ducks and geese fighting. I don’t know what they were fighting about but it was just funny.

Sadly I had to leave the following Saturday morning because my two weeks off were over and it was time to get ready for a two week intensive revision cramming session at Bristol Ground School (BGS). It was quite a trek down there (and even more so for dad, who had to drive all the way back again after). The accommodation I’d been allocated was fantastic, however – I’ve never stayed in a B&B quite like Churchill Court! The building itself is fantastic – absolutely massive, more like a country mansion than your average B&B like I stayed at down in Christchurch during the application process. And not only was the building lovely, but I really must give a special mention to John and Jan, our hosts for the two weeks, who were just fantastic. At most B&Bs you get your bed for the night, you get your breakfast and then you clear off for the day; not here. John and Jan could not have been more hospitable; constantly asking if there was anything we needed, getting in anything for breakfast we wanted, letting us use their kitchen in the evening whenever we wanted, basically treating it almost as a home than a B&B! It really did make our lives a lot easier. They had a grand piano in the hall as well; I didn’t play it because I didn’t really feel like I had the time to break off from revision, but there were a few occasions when Jamie and Beechy gave us a song during revision breaks.

BGS itself was pretty intense. You’re expected to have done all the necessary work before arriving there, of course, and be familiar with most of it so the idea is it’s mainly revision rather than teaching. The class we were in for the two weeks was pretty good; there were a couple of annoying people in there, including a Spanish helicopter pilot who kept saying “yes” all the time every time he agreed with something an instructor happened to be saying and, when occasionally translating for his mate sitting next to him, did so at a normal voice level rather than whispering (a concept I believe the Spanish generally have no idea anyway.) He wasn’t the only one, there were a couple of others. Fortunately, most of the class were alright and seeing as our lot made up nearly half of it anyway it wasn’t like we had to get stuck talking to them. We were all assigned seats which we had to keep for the two weeks. I was dreading being put next to someone arrogant who thought they knew it all about flying, but as luck would have it I was put next to a nice girl called Rebecca (hi if you’re reading this!) and we got on really well.

The one thing that you don’t really realise until you get to BGS is the sheer amount of work you get given. It’s colossal. There’s no way you can properly finish everything they give you to do unless you’re some sort of superhuman who can go without sleep. Depending on the subject you can probably get done about 2/3 – 3/4 of everything they give you every day, but the stuff that doesn’t get done just mounts up and up. I did get most of it done in the end but it left me shattered. It does work though; some subjects like Mass & Balance and Flight Planning I didn’t, and don’t, have a problem with and I did pretty well at them but with ones like Instruments and the utterly dreaded Meterology, I went in feeling like I knew nothing and now I feel more confident. The staff at BGS are excellent; Tom, the ex-Jaguar and Cathay Pacific captain who taught us Flight Planning was particularly good, but all of them really knew their stuff and more importantly knew how to teach it well. Most of them had a good sense of humour as well; a special mention must go to Baz (ex-RAF Victor and VC10 navigator) who taught us Navigation and Met. I’ve never met someone so in love with the CRP-5 computer and – to put it politely – he’s not about to win any awards for political correctness. But I came away from th ere knowing a hell of a lot more about Nav and Met than when I arrived, so it obviously all worked! It’s really, really hard work and it’s depressing when all you do every night for two weeks is come back at 5pm, bung in a microwave meal, chat on the net for a bit and then work solidly from 6 until midnight, but you just have to deal with it and get on with it.

Anyway, after 2 weeks of that I went home for the weekend to get a bit of laundry done and pick up the car. I’m now in Shuttleworth College, near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, which is the CAA exam venue and we’ve got residence here for 4 nights while we do the exams. It’s a beautiful place outside and I’ll stick some pictures up when I have time. I’ll write another entry towards the end of the week on how the exams and stuff have gone and I’ll also attach some photos (I was going to do it tonight but this has taken longer than I thought and I’ve got an exam at 9am and really need to go to sleep!) So here’s hoping it goes well. Good luck to the guys on CP35 as well – nice seeing you today!

March 17, 2007

Silly money

I’ve just read something on BBC Sport which, for a couple of seconds, actually made me feel sick.

From this page:

“Cristiano Ronaldo is set to sign a five-year £28m contract and remain with Manchester United. (The Sun)

However, it is reported Real Madrid are ready to step in following the rejection of Ronaldo’s £140,000 a week wage demands at Old Trafford. (The Guardian)”

£140,000 per WEEK?!!

Will someone give the silly boy a smack in the face and wake him up to reality? It makes me so angry. Not only would a week’s salary at that level pay off all my (rather substantial) debt – not only my pilot training costs but my student loan and overdraft as well – and still leave me enough to buy a posh car in cash, put a deposit on a house and give me about 10 grand in spare change, but it’s the fact it’s that hateful, arrogant, cheating, whinging little arsehole who’s demanding it. Goodness knows for how many months or even years a week’s worth of that salary could keep an African village in food and clean water.

Or perhaps, unfortunately, this is reality. Football is going down the drain at the moment. It’s not the game it used to be – there’s too much money being pumped into and thrown around by the top four clubs to the detriment of every other in the league. It’s about time people like Cristiano Ronaldo woke up to what the game actually means to the fans, the people who effectively pay his wages but will soon be priced out of the game. It’s unsurprising to see how attendances have generally dropped – football is too expensive and it’s contracts like this which cause it. I find it quite upsetting to see that players and agents feel they can happily demand this sort of money, it’s absolutely immoral. But what can ever be done about it?

March 12, 2007

March update

Right, it’s far too long since I last blogged. In fact I haven’t made a flying-related entry since first the React flight after I passed my PPL, so I’ve got a fair bit to waffle on about! Basically at the moment I’m back in England, having flown back on March 1st. I’m currently in the second of two weeks off; next weekend I’ll be heading down to spend two weeks of ATPL Theory revision/cramming at Bristol Ground School and after that – in the week before Easter – the first seven exams.

The flying has been quite hard work since passing the PPL; obviously, being quite far behind, there have been a lot to cram in to try to catch up. Technically I should have finished the single-engine flying by now and be ready to move on to the Twin Stars when I get back, but I’ve still got about 16 flight to go on the Cessna yet. It’s doable in about 3 weeks if the weather’s good, so I have definitely made up some time over the last month. One reason for the lack of blogging over the past month has been because it’s been so busy. Not only have I fortunately been scheduled loads of times anyway, but the planning side of it takes quite a while, not least because we’re often limited as to where we can go by the weather (cloud has been a major issue at times this summer). It can sometimes be tricky picking routes that don’t keep passing over the same places all the time! Also, you sometimes have to make late changes to what you’ve planned so I’ve spent a fair amount of time behind the planning desk of late. Some of the flights are quite draining; being given mid-air diversion after diversion by your instructor puts you under pressure and you have to learn to get through the process smoothly but quickly. I’m getting better at it but it’s hard work. It certainly teaches you to think more quickly.

There have been some nice days though and it’s been great being able to take passengers up now I’ve got my licence, particularly as I’ve always made sure they’ve brought a camera! For those people who haven’t got the benefit of Facebook access, here’s a few of the best pictures I’ve had taken in flight (mostly courtesy of Mr. Power and Mr. Lee):

Mt Manganui 1
Mt Manganui 2
Mt Manganui 3
Waikato river

(note the bouncy castle… this was just turning final for runway 18 on the Saturday afternoon we had the party at Clearways.) And a cheesy one to finish:
Me and C172


Here’s a meme that Naomi’s been nagging me to finish for ages! It’s taken way too long. I’m a busy man!

1. How old will you be in five years?
27 going on 28. Scary thought.

2. Who did you spend at least two hours with today?
Nobody as yet, but I’ll be spending about 10 hours with John, Hodge and Rich later on when we go out for a “couple of pints”.

3. How tall are you?

4. What do you look forward to most in the next six weeks?
Going down to uni for a week, seeing Naomi, going to the brass band area contest, having plenty of decent beer.

5. What’s the last movie you watched on DVD?
Well, I’m watching Tomorrow Never Dies on DVD at the moment while I’m pretending to do work.

6. Who was the last person you called?

7. Who was the last person to call you?

8. What was the last text message you received?
Jim trying to convince me to get a “symphonic hair cut” for the area contest. It’s not happening.

9. Who was the last person to leave you a voicemail?
My mum, trying to get through to me when I was at the baggage belt at Manchester Airport.

10. Would you rather call or text?
Either is good, although text gives you more chance to think what to say!

11. What were you doing at 12am last night?
Fiddling with my computers, nothing particularly exciting.

12. Are your parents married/separated/divorced.

13. When was the last time you saw your mum?
This morning when she stuck her head around the door before she went to work.

14. What colour are your eyes?


16. What are you wearing right now?
Jeans, jumper, t-shirt – the usual when you’re sitting round at home.

17. What is your favourite Christmas song?
Carol-wise, it would be O Holy Night – particularly the cheesy version I have on my computer. I like all the stuff you find on a typical double Christmas album though.

18. Where is your favourite place to be?
At home, in my own room. Or in the cabin of my Cessna 172 at 3000ft!

19. Where is your least favourite place to be?
Tricky one… anywhere dodgy and dark where I feel my personal safety is threatened. Also, I can’t stand Stansted Airport and unless the flight is really cheap I’ll go out of my way to avoid it.

20. Africa-New Zealand-Japan?
Well since I’ve just been in NZ for 7 months and I’m going back for another 3, I’d have to say one of the other two. Although I haven’t really seen much of NZ on the ground. Plenty of it from the air, but I haven’t had enough time to get out and explore the sights.

21. What do you think you’ll be in 10 years?
Hopefully a captain! But just being happy and settled with a family will do me.

22. Do you tan or Burn?
Burn, severely. I can not wear less than SPF 30, and when I go to very hot places like the Caribbean I have to take SPF 60. I’m that hopeless at tanning.

23. What did you fear was going to get you at night as a child?
I can’t really remember… I think I was most scared of people breaking in to the house and trying to get me!

24. What was the last thing that really made you laugh?
Hearing about a certain three unnamed people mooning at a certain restaurant in a certain town not far from University.

25. How many TVs do you have in your house?
Erm. 5 I think, although one is in the garage and not being used. We’ve got more computers than TVs though – 8 at the last count, plus enough parts lying round to build another complete one.

26. How big is your bed?
Just a bog standard single one – not really enough room for a double. Very comfy it is too! I love my own bed!

27. Do you have a laptop or desktop computer?
Both. Don’t know what I would have done without the laptop in NZ – in fact I would have had to buy one if I hadn’t got it for my birthday. Built the desktop one myself, only just got it working again after not working for a year – a combination of dodgy parts, people messing me about and being away for so long meant I never got round to fixing it. Turned out, as I suspected, I’d been sold a dodgy motherboard which Aria then told me they tested and found to be working fine. They’ve just lost a previously loyal customer. It’s all about Dabs and Ebuyer now.

28. What do you wear to bed?
T-shirt and boxers usually. I have woken up wearing the night before’s clothes a few times. Nothing imaginitive.

29. What colour are your sheets?
Dark blue.

30. How many pillows do you sleep with?

31. What is your favorite season?
Summer, because it’s best for flying!

32. What do you like about autumn?
Bonfire night

33. What do you like about winter?
Snow and Christmas. Thinking about being inside in front of a warm fire watching a classic Christmas film with the house all decorated.

34. What do you like about the summer?
Nice weather, long days, being able to go out late without a coat!


36. How many counties have you lived in?
Two – Greater Manchester and Derbyshire. That’s if Greater Manchester is classed as a county – I’m not sure it is. Otherwise the first one would probably be Lancashire.

37. What cities/towns have you lived in?
I’m not quite as well travelled as Naomi! Only three – Stalybridge, Middleton (between Rochdale and Manchester) and Chesterfield.

38. Do you prefer shoes, socks, or bare feet?
Socks inside the house, shoes outside. I hate walking round in bare feet personally. The Kiwis do it all the time, which I find very strange. It’s not uncommon to go shopping in town or something and see kids walking round with no shoes on. I don’t like shoes inside the house though – it wears the carpets out more quickly and makes them dirty.

39. Are you a social person?
Yes! I hate being stuck on my own, it’s boring. I like to have people around me. Sometimes it’s nice to have your own space; there are times when I’m just generally annoyed with people and I want some peace and quiet but most of the time I’m much happier when I’m with others!

40. What was the last thing you ate?
A “Fat Tony’s” pizza last night, which in my opinion wasn’t worth 8 quid.

Why are there so many questions missing?

42. What is your favourite ice cream?
Anything posh really. I’m not too fussy with ice cream as long as it’s not cheap and nasty.

43. What is your favourite dessert?
Anything chocolatey. My mum’s own chocolate cake is probably my all-time favourite. The chocolate brownie with ice cream I had yesterday at a restaurant in Kenilworth pushes it close though – that was delicious.


45. What kind of jam do you like on your Peanut Butter and Jam sandwich?
Peanut butter and jam? No thanks.

46. Do you like Chinese food?
Very much so. Mmmm… how much do I want a Wing Wah’s or Oriental Star now I’ve read that question…

47. Do you like coffee?
Yes, very much so. Black coffee with one sugar is the way to go.

48. How many glasses of water, a day, do you drink on average?
Not enough, I’m more likely to drink orange juice, Vimto or coke. Coke is bad, I’m sure they put something in it that makes you more thirsty for it. I can get through a 2 litre bottle in an hour and still feel thirsty. Very bad.

49. What do you drink in the morning?
Normally either orange juice or a cup of tea or coffee. Or sometimes, if I’m late and I can’t be bothered to dirty another glass and need to wash up, I’ll just stick my mouth under the tap and drink water! Haha.

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that whoever wrote this thing can’t count.

51. Do you sleep on a certain side of the bed?
Any will do me. I go out like a light so I’m not really bothered which side of the bed I’m on. Just give me a pillow, duvet and nice mattress and I’ll be gone almost straight away.

52. Do you know how to play poker?
Yep, I’m not great at it but it’s good fun to play as long as it’s not a stupidly expensive buy in. With mates and a few beers it’s a good laugh.

53. Do you like to cuddle?
Yes! There’s nothing like the warm feeling you get from a good cuddle!

54. Have you ever been to Canada?
Yep, went after my GCSEs with my good friend Paul. We stayed with a good friend of his mum’s in St Catherines which is south of Toronto and just north of Niagra Falls. Brilliant holiday, that was – had a fantastic time.

55. Do you have an addictive personality?

56. Do you eat out or at home more often?
At home. I like home cooking. I can’t afford to eat out very often.

This is just silly now!

58. Do you know anyone with the same birthday as you?
Step forward Music Centre Administrator, Mr. Owen Lloyd!

59. Do you want kids?
One day, and preferably while I’m young. I want them before I’m 30. Not at the moment though – got ages to go yet!


61. Have you ever gotten stitches?
No, I’ve never cut myself seriously enough to need them.

62. Have you ever ridden in an ambulance?
Er, yes. First year of Uni, pub bowling. We won’t go into that story again – it’s been recounted endlessly now!

63. Do you prefer an ocean or a pool?
Pool really, but it’s mainly because I don’t like getting sand stuck all over my feet. I like to be able to get out of the pool, get back on my sunlounger and carry on reading without having sand all over my towel.

64. Do you prefer a window seat or an aisle seats?
On a bus, an aisle seat – I don’t like being crushed up to the window by a fat person, which is what normally happens. On a train, I like a window seat – I like to be able to see what’s going on outside. On a plane, I used to swear by having a window seat and was gutted when I didn’t get one. These days, however, in my days of jetting backwards and forwards to Auckland, I much prefer an aisle seat. I’m going to have a window seat up there as a career so I’m rather less bothered about seeing out of the side. On a long haul flight it’s much better having an aisle seat; I hate having to ask people to shift so I can go to the toilet, especially when there’s two randoms sat there.

65.Do you prefer manual or automatic?
Depends really. I think I prefer a manual, but it depends on the car and the gearbox. If I was driving something big and posh, like my uncle’s new Discovery, an automatic does go well with that. If it’s a piece of crap like the Toyota Platz we drive in NZ with an equally awful automatic gearbox which does whatever it feels like, then I prefer a manual.

66. What is your favorite thing to spend money on?
Food! And computers and gadgets. I like spoiling Naomi as well!

67. Do you wear any jewellry 24/7?
Nope, not me. Not really a jewellry type of person.

68. What is your favorite TV show?
Top Gear, without a doubt. Totally and utterly brilliant.

69. Can you roll your tongue?
Yep! I used to do it all the time when I was a baby, apparently.

70. Who is the funniest person you know?
Well, there’s a few people… at uni it has to be the Middleton/Wee-man pairing when they’re together. At CTC it would probably be Matt, who always makes me laugh.

71. Do you sleep with stuffed animals?
I have a few who sit on my bed who have always been there since the day I was born. Carebear and Pinky are my oldest two. There’s a few others that have appeared down the years, but not many.

72. What is the main ring tone on your phone?
Entrance of the Gladiators. I also switch to “You Are My Sunshine” and Lloyd Webber’s “Variations” occasionally.

73. Do you still have clothes from when you were little
Probably – my wardrobe and my bedroom are so ridiculously full of unnecessary old stuff that I just won’t ever chuck out that I’m sure there’s some stuff from when I was little in there.

74. What red object is closest to you right now?
The Valentines card I sent Naomi – I’m in her room and it’s on the shelf above me.

75. Do you turn off the water while you brush your teeth?
To avoid being abused by Naomi when she reads this, I’d better say yes.

76. Do you sleep with your cupboard/wardrobe doors open or closed?
I really don’t tend to notice but since I close them after getting what I need I think they’re probably closed.

77. Would you rather be attacked by a big bear or a swarm of bees?
I really don’t understand these stupid questions. Neither, obviously. I can’t give any other answer to that.

78. Do you like someone?
Yes, of course. My lovely girlfriend.

79. What do you dip a chicken nugget in?

80. Have you ever written a love letter?
If soppy messages in Valentines cards count, then yes.

81. Can you change the oil on a car?
Well I can’t change it as in drain the old stuff out, change the filter and replace the oil – that’s what mechanics are for. But I can top the oil up if necessary.

82. Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?
No. I got a parking ticket once for a careless bit of parking in the middle of the countryside.

83. Have you ever run out of gas?
Yes, we were having a BBQ the other week and the gas ran out. Now if you meant have I ever run out of petrol, the answer is no.

84. What is your usual bedtime?
Between midnight and 1am. Earlier if I’ve got an early flight the next day.

85. What was the last book you read?
I really can’t remember. I’m reading Peter Kay’s book at the moment though.

86. Do you read the newspaper?
If there’s one lying around I’ll read it. I don’t buy them regularly.

87. Do you read any magazines?
Again, depends what’s lying around. I used to buy Airliner World fairly regularly before I started my flight training but I’ve had to cut down on unnecessary stuff recently because of money issues. I’ll always steal a copy of FHM, Zoo or Nuts off one of the other lads if they’ve got it.

89. Do you watch soap operas?
When I was still at home I watched Corrie, Eastenders and The Bill all the time.

90. Do you dance in the car?
I assume this is an American questionnaire then. Over here, we don’t all drive stupidly oversized SUVs and Hummers and stretch limos where you can stand up and have a disco in the back. You try dancing in a Ford Fiesta.

91. What radio station did you last listen to?
Radio 2, I think.

92. Who is in the picture frame closest to you?
One of Naomi, Lu, Kelly and Julia on Brasssoc tour in Newquay.

93. What was the last note you scribbled on a piece of paper?
No idea. I don’t remember these things. That’s the whole point of scribbling them down isn’t it?

94. What is your favorite candle scent?
Again I don’t know. I’m not a girl.

95. What is your favorite board game?
Hmmmmm… I’ll go with Trivial Pursuit I think.

96. What are your favorite pair of shoes?
I don’t have a favourite pair. Again, I’m not a girl. I have one pair of shoes and two pairs of trainers and I don’t have a favourite – they’re there to do a job!

97. Was your first kiss good or bad?
Ah, that takes me back… I seem to remember it being pretty good!

98. Who was your favorite teacher in high school?
Hahaha it’s got to be Mr “Moe” Wainwright. A-level Physics was just legendary. So much banter and dry sarcastic humour it’s hard to believe we got any work done. Some people actually didn’t do any work, ever.

99. What is the longest you have ever camped out in a tent?
A week with Brasssoc. And that’s long enough.

100. Who was the last person to give you butterflies?
Erm, me during my PPL flight test every time I thought “shit, I’ve failed now” when I did something wrong. I didn’t fail, fortunately.


For anyone still remotely interested, it’s back online. I’ll start updating it again soon-ish. For those of you who haven’t visited before and have found your way here via Google – and I know there will be some, because of the e-mails I’ve received in the past – I hope the entries about my flight training course are useful and informative. Over the next few weeks I will bring it up to date with what’s actually happened since I gained my CPL/IR in January 2008 and qualified on the Airbus the following May.

Enjoy reading.


Any views expressed anywhere in this blog are those of mine, and mine alone.

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